Breakthrough battery could enable your cellphone to jump-start your car

Researchers from the University of Illinois have designed a new microbattery that may close the widening gap between the power demands of our ever-advancing technologies and the capabilities of the batteries those technologies rely upon.

Rather than using standard, solid electrodes that have only a few surfaces available to exchange electrons, these new batteries use what the researchers call "three-dimensional bicontinuous interdigitated microelectrodes", which is a somewhat cumbersome way of saying that the tiny electrodes are made of a 3-D lattice of material that gives access to a much higher surface area, and they are interwoven, like your fingers are when you clasp your hands together.

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"The battery electrodes have small intertwined fingers that reach into each other," said Prof. William P. King, who led the research team, according to the BBC.

"That does a couple of things. It allows us to make the battery have a very high surface area even though the overall battery volume is extremely small. And it gets the two halves of the battery very close together so the ions and electrons do not have far to flow. Because we're reduced the flowing distance of the ions and electrons we can get the energy out much faster."

According to the University of Illinois News Bureau, these batteries provide so much power that they could be up to 30 times smaller than current batteries and still provide the same energy, or be the same size as current batteries and provide up to 30 times as much power. They can also be recharged 1,000 times faster than other types of batteries.

There is one concern with this new technology, though. The fluid currently used to immerse the electrodes in is combustible, bringing up a safety issue. According to the BBC, King acknowledged that this would be a problem if the battery was scaled up to larger designs, but he also said that he was going to switch to a polymer-based electrolyte fluid soon, which would be safer.

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"This is a whole new way to think about batteries," said King, according to the University of Illinois News Bureau. "A battery can deliver far more power than anybody ever thought. In recent decades, electronics have gotten small. The thinking parts of computers have gotten small. And the battery has lagged far behind. This is a microtechnology that could change all of that. Now the power source is as high-performance as the rest of it."

The research was published in the journal Nature Communications on April 16th.

(Image courtesy: University of Illinois)

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